A British High School and Its Integration of Technology (Jose Picardo)

Jose’ Picardo, describes himself in his blogI am a Assistant Principal at Surbiton High School, where I teach Modern Foreign Languages and I am in charge of developing the school’s digital strategy, which can be summarised as follows: ensuring the integration of technologies that enable and facilitate teaching and learning into the life of the school and its wider community….”

Jose’  Picardo commented on a two-part post on my technology integration project. He gave me permission to use his comment. In Picardo’s comment he included a three-minute video about different classrooms in Surbiton High School, outside of London. The video shows the range of usage in both high- and low-tech tools across academic and non-academic subjects.


Hi Larry,

I’ve recently led the adoption of tablets across our school in a suburb of London, UK. Depending on who you ask, we’re either incredibly innovative or completely foolish.

Perhaps surprisingly then, I’ve always been very sceptical of claims of transformation when it comes to the adoption of technology in schools. Throughout the deployment of our 1:1 tablet programme one thing above all was always present on our minds: There is no app for great teaching.

From the start, some of the myths that we found ourselves dispelling most often were that technology would substitute teachers; that tablets would stop children from writing; and that we were somehow giving up on rigour and in to edutainment. As if mobile technology and high academic standards were somehow mutually exclusive.

Anticipating my seminar at BETT yesterday, I had asked a colleague, who is a dab hand at filming and editing, to go round the school and film instances of tablets being used in lessons (if they were being used), so we can paint an accurate picture of how they are used, as opposed to how some folk assume they are being used.(see video at:  https://vimeo.com/152408282 )

It is actual lesson footage. Nothing was ‘put on’ for the camera. If you have time to watch this 3 min video, you will notice how students weave seamlessly between tablet and paper. Tablets are not substituting paper or preventing children from learning how to handwrite.

The teacher is still the ‘sage on the stage’ most of the time. Students are still students. They are still mostly sitting in rows. Some would argue that if tablets have not transformed the classroom beyond this traditional paradigm, then what is the point? But when you tailor into the equation the multiple ways in which mobile devices support teaching and learning (in the classroom and beyond), then their value begins to become more apparent.

Our school is a great school by all measures. Our results and inspection reports confirm this. Tablets have not yet been shown to have had a great impact on exam results (to early to tell) but, to be honest with you, we will not be surprised if exam results are not dramatically improved by the adoption of these devices. Having said that, our current data leads us to expect a modest improvement.

At the end of the day, the decision to use tablet to support teaching and learning when appropriate was a value call. Good luck measuring that!


While I have no idea how representative Jose Picardo’s video and his comment are of other UK schools that have integrated new technologies into their daily classroom routines, both the comment and video  illustrate two points that I have observed in U.S. classrooms over the past few decades. First, no “transformation” in teaching has occurred (see third paragraph from end of Picardo’s comment). Second, the perpetual hope that use of new technologies will improve “exam” results  (see next-to-last paragraph of  comment).

Both of these points capture the current climate for adopting and integrating tablets and hand-held devices into U.S. classroom instruction. In the technology project I am just beginning, I stay away from linking usage of hardware/software to student achievement for the simple reason that if instruction stays pretty much the same after high-tech devices and applications are regularly used, then chances of gains (or losses) in how much students learn, as measured by existing tests, are slim to non-existent. If teaching is, indeed, linked to student learning then noticeable changes in teaching have to occur for that learning to improve. And that is why in my current project, I focus on how teachers teach in classrooms, schools, and districts  where technology integration has been identified by multiple individuals and agencies rather than how students perform on tests.



Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

15 responses to “A British High School and Its Integration of Technology (Jose Picardo)

  1. David

    Hi Larry–are you asking about return on investment? I know you’ve brought this up before in other posts, but I wonder what the school in question is giving up (class sizes, facilities, payroll) to implement this. Given limited educational dollars, is this level of implementation worth the money, time and resources? Have they even thought about that?

    • larrycuban

      You ask fair questions, David, but I have no idea about whether Jose’ Picardo asked or answered those questions. Perhaps he can respond since he does read this blog.

      • Hi Larry,

        Thank you ever so much for your attention to the work we are doing at SHS.

        I dealt with some of these issues in my seminar at BETT. You can find a transcript here.

        I’d be very happy to answer any follow-up questions.

        Best wishes


      • larrycuban

        Thanks, Jose’, for linking viewers to the transcript of your recent presentation. Some of David’s questions are, indeed, answered there.

  2. David

    Hi Jose–thanks for the reply and thank you for posting the presentation you made. It’s always good to have transparency in these things so we can have a real discussion.

    If I can poke you a bit, I notice that you start out talking about the efficacy of 1:1 programs using the usual measurements (testing, classroom performance) and, as you noted, there is a lot of dodgy or inapplicable data and, as the recent OECD report indicated, the improvements of student performance with ed tech is mixed at best. But then notice what you did–you moved into areas usually not measured to promote the technology. In the US we have the 21st Century skills thing doing the same, but that’s a problem that many teachers who view technology with skepticism have–if it doesn’t enhance the standard measures, the goalposts get moved to justify it. I wonder if you got any feedback along those lines.

    Finally, I don’t agree with your opportunity cost section regarding class sizes. I’ll point you to a recent study in the US indicating that class sizes have a very large impact on student outcomes: http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/pb_-_class_size.pdf
    If the conclusion about class sizes were different, would that change the thinking about the technology investment rather than hiring more faculty?

    My own school is going through this process, and we are currently engaged in a review of where we are. It would be interesting to see what your faculty thinks down the road. Thanks again!

    • Poke away 🙂 I’ll try and answer some of these points in turn:

      The OECD reports concludes that the way technology is used in schools currently is not producing the outcomes one might have expected, especially given how some of these technologies have been hyped-up. There is little with which to disagree there.

      If one moves away from outlandish expectations of educational transformation leveraged by the increased use of technology alone and focuses instead, as the OECD report advises, on investing on supporting and training teachers to use all the resources available to them, including digital, then teaching and learning tends to improve as a result.

      One of the things we have learnt from failed iPad initiatives is that you cannot hand out iPads and expect magic to happen. We have made a big investment in kit, that is true, but the real investment is in training teachers and students so that they can use whichever resource is best to learn a particular topic or complete a particular task. For this reason, for example, we don’t expect the iPads to be used just because they’re there, but only when they add value to learning. Indeed, one of the biggest challenges I have as a senior leader is to get teachers to understand when NOT to use technology. This lack of compulsion generates a culture among our teachers, think of it in the biological sense, where the conditions are such that teachers feel free to experiment with the use of technology without fear of being judged. The only compulsion, generated through professional expectations, is to continuously improve as a teacher, with or without technology. The last thing we want to do is to make anyone a worse teacher by forcing them to use an iPad.

      21st century skills are, in my opinion, a big red herring. Were creativity and cooperation not useful in the 18th century? So, I dont think I’m moving any goalposts. If anything I feel I’m moving the goalposts back to where they should have been in the first place, firmly supporting the processes which we know to contribute to great teaching and learning.

      Thanks for the link to the data regarding class sizes. The data regarding class sizes is not my conclusion, it’s the EEF’s, who conclude:

      Intuitively, it seems obvious that reducing the number of pupils in a class will improve the quality of teaching and learning, for example by increasing the amount of high quality feedback or one to one attention learners receive. However, overall the evidence does not show particularly large or clear effects, until class size is reduced to under 20 or even below 15.

      I think that the evidence on this is mixed. The point the EEF is making is that, yes, in theory class size matters, but, in practice, class sizes need to be reduced by so much to make an impact that the cost becomes prohibitive. We made the value call that the money would be better spent supporting other interventions for which the evidence was more solid.

      I’m not trying to convince anyone. I’m just trying to explain the approach we have taken. I would be the first to agree that there are plenty of schools for whom other priorities are more pressing. We just happen to be in a position where we can take this step. So far it’s working well for us.

  3. JoeN

    My eldest daughter attends an academically selective girls school about 6 miles from Jose’s school. This evening she told me how she had attended her first school council, a girls only event (no teachers allowed.) One of the things on the agenda was a discussion about the school’s intention to extend a project where they had given iPads to all year sevens, to all other year groups.

    The universal response, from every girl who spoke was not just negative, but openly hostile. And my daughter provided a long list of the intelligent objections they came up with that included all the obvious practical ones and more thoughtful ones, like the impact on their existing, highly effective study habits.

    • larrycuban

      Would your daughter be interested in letting me see those objections? Possible guest post from her about the plan and girls’ responses?

      • The council have yet to feedback to the head yet, so it wouldn’t be appropriate. (Social media is just too fast for real school life!) But I will try and understand more about the girls’ objections as the discussions develop.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks, Joe.

    • Yes, I’d like to see those objections too. We too had a mixed response from school council. Basically surrounding how students thought how the iPads were going to be used rather than how they are actually being used. See video link in the post’s main body. Many of the fears simply (Social media, loss of hand-writing skills etc) did not materialise thanks to careful research, planning and implementation. As I hope I made clear in my presentation at BETT (link to transcript above), our aim is to support and enhance existing learning habits, not to create new ones. Change might occur over time, but it will be an evolution, not a revolution, in my view.

      For the record our own SWOT analisys completed by our school council is available here.

    • Interest remark, Bob. I’m sure that, like our school, Joe´s daughters’ school uses school council opinion to inform school policy, not to dictate it. At the end of the day, what the school deems to be best is not always in agreement with what school council suggestions, quite rightly too.

      Our students opinions have changed considerably over the past two years, as their conception of what having an iPad would mean changed when they actually used one. Consistently, when asked ‘would you rather not have an iPad?’ Or even a more direct ‘do you think the iPad helps you with your academic studies?’ The answer is always overwhelmingly positive toward learning with iPads. There are a few students who do say the iPad distracts them, for example, but these tend to be the sort of student who would be ‘distracted’ anyway.

      Of course, it could be that the girls in Joe’s daughter’s school are really more intelligent than ours and that the iPad programme is working for us because we are doing something wrong 😉 It is possible!

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